Substance use disorders, physical health and recovery capital: Examining the experiences of clients and the alcohol and other drug workforce

Publication Name

Drug and Alcohol Review


Introduction: Challenges associated with the integration of physical health within alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment services persist. The construct of recovery capital has gained currency within the sector, however, its potential in understanding the integration of physical health within AOD treatment has not been examined. This study explores the role of physical health in the process of recovery, examining the potential of ‘recovery capital’ frameworks to enhance integrated care. Methods: Interviews were conducted with residential and outpatient AOD services across New South Wales, Australia. Qualitative data was collected from clients (n = 20) and staff (n = 13) and transcribed. Data were systematically coded and analysed using the iterative categorisation method. Results: Unmanaged physical health issues compromised recovery, particularly when associated with hopelessness and pain. Improved physical health ameliorated sources of negative recovery capital such as boredom, social isolation and mental health symptoms. When addressed during treatment, physical health facilitated recovery capital resources through knowledge and skill acquisition, increased autonomy, enjoyment and immersive experience. Benefits extended to domains of ‘social capital’ (social connection) and ‘cultural capital’ (physical appearance). Discussion and Conclusions: Physical health offers variegated pathways for building recovery capital. Findings support calls for a more assertive approach to addressing physical health when AOD treatment occurs outside of primary care settings. Future research should examine the potential of recovery capital as a heuristic for optimising care of physical health issues and health-related behaviour within AOD treatment services.

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